SIUC Dept. of Communication Studies RSOs
by Brent Palmer
In this, my second installment on communication and race, I will explain what a microaggression is and how both the sender and receiver of a racial microaggression can best facilitated communication through Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk about Race.
Ijeoma defines microaggressions as: “small daily insults and indignities perpetrated against marginalized or oppressed people because of their affiliation with that marginalized or oppressed group.” (p. 169). Though they are called microaggressions, the feelings which come from the consistent indignities are anything but micro.
Racial microaggressions that I have personally experienced include: “Can I touch your hair,” “Wow, you sound so articulate,” “You don’t sound black,” and “You act like you’re white.” They can also be delivered nonverbally, such as when a cab doesn’t stop to pick you up, or when a sales clerk follows you around a store.
It is important to stress that microaggressions are small, cumulative, perpetrated by many people, and said people do not usually know when they commit one. One of these comments might not hurt, but they begin to sting after hearing them for a prolonged period of time, and are hard to address without exhausting yourself and being labeled as hypersensitive. A good way to think of this is like death by 1,000 paper cuts.
A microaggression’s harm goes beyond the psychological, and has the social implication of normalizing racism. This is due to their connections to stereotypes, as stereotypes are commonly displayed through microaggressions. So, how can we best address racial microaggressions?
Oluo highlights five things receivers can try to help facilitate conversations of microaggressions: